Craig Taborn: Avenging Angel

This set invites reflection and negotiation even as it demands both energy and patience.

Craig Taborn

Avenging Angel

US Release: 2011-06-07
UK Release: 2011-05-23
Label: ECM

Pianist Craig Taborn hasn't released a solo album since 2004, when Junk Magic put jazz and electronic music in a mix, playing with beats until something heady came out. He's been busy as a sideman, and his explorations of different sounds and influences has led, perhaps surprisignly, to a solo piano album, Avenging Angel. The format makes perfect sense, though, as it allows him to focus on sound and space, putting his improvised experimentation into an isolated format where we listen to piano-as-piano, and think about what that actually means.

The album takes the listener through a range sounds and styles without losing focus. The transition between the title track and “This Voice Says So” represents the stretches Taborn makes in the process. “Avenging Angel” starts on a dark, percussive groove, with Taborn working far down the piano, using the timbre of that end of the instrument integrate mood with propulsion. As he explores with his right hand, the song further increases in both energy and tension. We never quite get a release, as the upper register brightens, the lower rhythm continues to grind and impose a darker tone. The song pounds at us for nearly seven minutes.

And then we get “This Voice Says So”, a cut that opens so quietly that the single, high-pitched notes are barely audible. Taborn skips from deep rhythmic playing to high, well-spaced notes that take most of their first minute to coalesce into anything coherent, and even then Taborn provides and initial challenge to reveal what he's putting together. By the middle of the ten-minute track, we start to get a better picture, but his use of silence matches his tonal progression as the relevant composition, plinkings eventually submerged under crescendoing progressions.

“Forgetful” does the best job of combining Taborn's interest in digging at small spaces with his lyricism. The piece starts softly and slowly, as he gradually builds a framework. He works single-note repetition before a melody starts to shake loose. Every bit of traditional-sounding jazz that comes through here, almost reminiscent of a Hollywood lounge scene, gets played off either contrasting chords or the ambient pick up in the room, creating a tone to the piece that shifts the loveliness from the keys to the sound itself. As Taborn plays his way through, the song develops into a grander picture.

The album is thoughtful throughout, if not always contemplative (the extreme study in dynamics throughout the album limits a fully contemplative approach). A track like “Neither-Nor” provides brief, skittery examinations, while opener “The Broad Day King” provides more brightness and expansiveness. Throughout these tracks, though, the range, uses, and sound of the piano remain foregrounded. The recording quality is essential to the effect of the album, and the excellent sound of the recital room it was recorded in only enhances Taborn's ideas.

One of the meditative pieces on the album is named “A Difficult Thing Said Simply,” and while there's a journalist optimism for concision there, the title's a red herring. Taborn is saying difficult things, but he's not saying them simply. He's saying them straightforwardly by himself, without making his music impenetrable, but with Avenging Angel, he's created a set that invites continual reflection and negotiation, and one that demands as much energy as patience from the listener, even in the silence.





The 60 Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, the 60 best albums of 2007 included many of the 2000s' best albums.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Solitude Stands in the Window: Thoreau's 'Walden'

Henry David Thoreau's Walden as a 19th century model for 21st century COVID-19 quarantine.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Will COVID-19 Kill Movie Theaters?

Streaming services and large TV screens have really hurt movie theaters and now the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered multiplexes and arthouses. The author of The Perils of Moviegoing in America, however, is optimistic.

Gary D. Rhodes, Ph.D

Fleabag's Hot Priest and Love as Longing

In season two of Fleabag, The Priest's inaccessibility turns him into a sort of god, powerful enough for Fleabag to suddenly find herself spending hours in church with no religious motivation.


Annabelle's Curse's 'Vast Oceans' Meditates on a Groundswell of Human Emotions (premiere)

Inspired by love and life, and of persistent present-day issues, indie folk band Annabelle's Curse expand their sound while keeping the emotive core of their work with Vast Oceans.


Americana's Sarah Peacock Finds Beauty Beneath Surface With "Mojave" (premiere + interview)

Born from personal pain, "Mojave" is evidence of Sarah Peacock's perseverance and resilience. "When we go through some of the dry seasons in our life, when we do the most growing, is often when we're in pain. It's a reminder of how alive you really are", she says.


Power Struggle in Beauty Pageants: On 'Mrs. America' and 'Miss Americana'

Television min-series Mrs. America and Taylor Swift documentary Miss Americana make vivid how beauty pageants are more multi-dimensional than many assume, offering a platform to some (attractive) women to pursue higher education, politics, and more.

Hilary Levey Friedman

Pere Ubu 'Comes Alive' on Their New, Live Album

David Thomas guides another version of Pere Ubu through a selection of material from their early years, dusting off the "hits" and throwing new light on some forgotten gems.


Woods Explore Darkness on 'Strange to Explain'

Folk rock's Woods create a superb new album, Strange to Explain, that mines the subconscious in search of answers to life's unsettling realities.


The 1975's 'Notes on a Conditional Form' Is Laudably Thought-Provoking and Thrilling

The 1975 follow A Brief Inquiry... with an even more intriguing, sprawling, and chameleonic song suite. Notes on a Conditional Form shows a level of unquenchable ambition, creativity, and outspoken curiosity that's rarely felt in popular music today.


Dustbowl Revival's "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)" Is a Cheeky Reproach of COVID-19 (premiere)

Inspired by John Prine, Dustbowl Revival's latest single, "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)", approaches the COVID-19 pandemic with wit and good humor.


The 2020 US Presidential Election Is Going to Be Wild but We've Seen Wild Before

Americans are approaching a historical US presidential election in unprecedented times. Or are they? Chris Barsanti's The Ballot Box: 10 Presidential Elections That Changed American History gives us a brief historical perspective.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.